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Pragmatist Democracy$

Christopher Ansell

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199772438

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199772438.001.0001


(p.63) Chapter 4 Organizations
Pragmatist Democracy

Christopher K. Ansell

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter builds on the work of Mary Parker Follett and Philip Selznick to anchor a tradition of Pragmatist organizational theory. In contrast with Max Weber’s image of bureaucracy, Follett and Selznick reject the dualism of formal versus informal organization. Doing this allows them to imagine a different relationship between central control and decentralized discretion in organizations. Selznick’s perspective on “responsive organizations” supports a problem-solving perspective on organizations and an emphasis on developing the competency and character of organizational communities.

Keywords:   pragmatism, Mary Parker Follett, Philip Selznick, organization theory, informal organization, centralization, decentralization

This chapter builds on the last two chapters by extending a Pragmatist analysis to organizations. As understood here, organizations are special-purpose associations with established institutions that allow them to act in a concerted fashion to develop and carry out collective goals.1 Because they are able to act collectively, develop goals, and create institutions, organizations are centrally important for evolutionary learning. If institutions are the medium of evolutionary learning at the societal level, organizations are the agents. This chapter establishes a general theoretical framework for thinking about organizations as agents of evolutionary learning. These ideas are further developed in chapters 5 and 6, where the analysis focuses more directly on public agencies.

Several scholars have argued that the Pragmatists, and Dewey in particular, failed to understand the implications of the rise of large-scale organizations.2 Whether or not this is true, it is possible to construct a Pragmatist framework for thinking about large-scale organizations by building on the work of two organization theorists with a Pragmatist vision, Mary Parker Follett and Philip Selznick. Follett was an early management theorist and a contemporary of Dewey and Mead who developed a distinctive view of authority and power in modern organizations. Selznick was a sociologist who was directly influenced by Dewey. He developed a powerful framework for understanding organizational leadership as well as many other aspects of how organizations function. This chapter focuses on Selznick, bringing in Follett in a more supportive role.

What purpose does it serve to return to the work of Selznick? The first purpose is to anchor a tradition of Pragmatist organization theory. From the perspective of evolutionary learning, intellectual traditions are important because they help to bring communities of inquiry together and also improve the chances for accumulation of knowledge. Selznick already has a prominent place in the study of organizations, but the Pragmatist character of his thought is not well known. A conventional reading of his work interprets him (p.64) as a structural-functionalist or culturalist.3 Therefore, the second purpose of this chapter is to draw out a Pragmatist interpretation of Selznick’s work. The third purpose of returning to Selznick, however, is the most important one. Interpreted in a Pragmatist light, Selznick’s work provides a foundational Pragmatist account of large-scale organization that can complement Charles Sabel’s (2006) recent analysis of Pragmatist organization, as well as other contemporary perspectives on organizational learning.

Selznick is not typically seen as a progenitor of the extensive contemporary body of work on organizational learning (Argyris and Schon 1978; Nelson and Winter 1985; Levitt and March 1988; March 1991; Sabel 2006; Senge 2006). This literature addresses the question of how organizations learn or fail to learn far more directly than does Selznick and is therefore fundamental for understanding evolutionary learning in organizations. Selznick does not even specifically use the terms “evolution” or “learning”; nevertheless, his work complements these more specific accounts of organizational learning. By linking together ideas of organizations as cultures, self-regulating polities, and problem-solving systems, Selznick (with help from Follett) captures what might be called the “constitutional basis” for evolutionary learning in large-scale organizations. The main themes of his work can be expressed according to the main points of the evolutionary learning model described in chapter 1, summarized below.

Antidualism: Selznick analyzes the way large-scale organizations can overcome the tensions between formal and informal and centralized and decentralized organization.

Problem-focused: His analysis of how organizations can become “responsive” to societal circumstances and his attention to organizational competencies provides a basis for thinking about how organizations become active problem-solvers.

Reflexivity: His analysis of how organizations become communities and how organizational leaders shape the character of organization through attention to how meaning is institutionalized provides a framework for thinking about organizations as reflexive communities.

Deliberation: Selznick’s analysis of how organizational communities become self-regulating polities offers a basis for thinking about deliberation in organizations.

The chapter begins by directly contrasting Selznick’s view of organization with Max Weber’s understanding of bureaucracy. As the great theorist of modern bureaucracy, Weber is well known for his pessimism that bureaucracy—as the ultimate embodiment of rational-legal authority—would leave us in an “iron cage” of dehumanized efficiency. Although organization theorists have long been critical of Weber’s notion that bureaucracy is the most efficient of institutions, his work remains a touchstone for organization theory and public (p.65) administration. Indeed, his insights into rationalization, bureaucratization, and authority are foundational for much of the social sciences. Selznick himself was deeply influenced by the work of Max Weber through the influence of his teacher, Robert Merton. However, a contrast between Weber and Selznick helps to illuminate a different view of modernity and modern organization.

The widespread contemporary condemnation of bureaucracy and the preference for “flexible” markets and networks over “rigid” hierarchy draws heavily on Weber’s image of bureaucracy. Du Gay argues that the contemporary push to “entrepreneurial governance” defines itself in opposition to the “impersonal, procedural, hierarchical and technical organization of the Weberian bureau” (2000, 6). While Selznick’s work anticipates some of the themes of “post-bureaucratic organization,” his analysis is less skeptical about large-scale organization than Weber’s, but for that reason it is also less likely to try to merely replace it with what Sabel calls the “twin” of hierarchy—informality and flexibility (Sabel 2006). By breaking with the dualisms bequeathed by the Weberian legacy, Selznick creates a Pragmatist vision of modern organizations that combines control and flexibility. The chapter concludes with a discussion of one of the important implications of Selznick’s model for current reform of public organization—its emphasis on cultivating the competencies and “character” of public organizations.

Antidualism I: The Pragmatist Marriage of Formal and Informal Organization

To argue that Weber’s analysis of modern institutions is pessimistic is not to say that he was not prophetic in his understanding of institutions. He was. But his analysis was also limited by the very categories he used to analyze institutions. Weber’s sociology is neo-Kantian; as MacKinnon writes, “There was no more devoted Kantian than Max Weber” (2001, 335). It is in Weber’s analysis of the autonomy of reason and ideas—rationality—that we most clearly see the influence of Kant. This autonomy, as ultimately embodied in bureaucracy, required sharply dualistic categories. Most importantly, Weber built his concept of bureaucracy on sharp distinctions between the formal and the informal and the personal and the impersonal. In fact, it was precisely the formal impersonalism of bureaucracy that led Weber to his pessimism about the iron cage. This formal impersonalism led to the conception of bureaucracy as an institution being an “object,” separated from its “subjects.”4

The concept of authority at the heart of Weber’s institutional sociology is the empirical interpretation of Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative. As MacKinnon writes: “Kant’s categorical imperative is a command in itself (p.66) disinterested in ends…. Similarly so for Weber’s value rationality, which ‘always’ involves ‘commands’ or ‘demands’ that are binding on the subject” (2001, 343). Weber’s concept of authority is the linchpin of his argument about bureaucracy, because authority is the link between power and legitimacy. It is not accidental that Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy linked formality and impersonalism with authority and legitimacy. These features of bureaucracy are strongly reinforcing logics, and they are linked to the clear separation of person from office (and hence the separation of subject and object).5 If office is separated from person, it becomes an object, which allows it to be assigned a general grant of authority. The more general this grant, the more this authority must be regarded as sacred and autonomous—hence the importance of legitimacy. This legitimacy is “objective” (accountable to public standards) and input-oriented rather than output-oriented. In rational-legal authority, authority resides in rules; formality and impersonalism bestow legitimacy on rules.6

Pragmatism also grew out of neo-Kantianism. However, it broke with Kant precisely around the issue of dualism. Pragmatists reject any sharp dualism between subject and object. Building on James and Mead, Dewey sought to overcome subject–object dualism through his notions of experience, instrumentalism, and experimentalism. Habit and custom, he argued, can be reflexively reconstructed in an evolutionary manner. Although Dewey had concerns about large-scale organization, he was not anti-organizational (Stever 1993). As Dewey wrote in Freedom and Culture:

The predicament is that individuality demands association to develop and sustain and association requires arrangement and coordination of its elements, or organization—since otherwise it is formless and devoid of power. But we have now a kind of molluscan organization, soft individuals within and hard constrictive shells without…. No small part of the democratic problem is to achieve associations whose ordering of parts provides the strength that comes with stability, while they promote flexibility of response to change. (1989, 127)

Dewey embraced an idea of ordered liberty, which required organization. In fact, as Stever argues, “It is a reasonable extrapolation of [Dewey’s] thinking that value creation must inevitably be performed within organizational settings” (1993, 431). Dewey clearly understood that organization could curtail freedom and lead to tyranny and technocracy, but organization did not inevitably lead to this result.

Selznick was influenced by both Weber and Dewey. His classic TVA and the Grassroots, for example, was a study in goal displacement inspired by Roberto (p.67) Michels’s “iron law of oligarchy” (Michels was a student of Weber’s). Selznick also acknowledged Dewey’s influence in various footnotes and references, though these scattered footnotes and references do not really do justice to the way that Selznick’s larger body of work on institutions embodies a Pragmatist conception. Selznick is quite aware of Dewey’s battles against “pernicious dualism” and finds this antidualism particularly relevant to overcoming the dualism of freedom and discipline (2002, 136–137). For Selznick, as for Dewey, self-government requires discipline, which is partly habitual and learned (2002, 137).7

In contrast with Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy, Selznick’s work on large-scale organization rejected sharp dichotomies between personal/impersonal and formal/informal. These ideas are most explicitly developed in his great work, Leadership in Administration. Consider Weber again. His analysis of bureaucracy as an iron cage was built upon his analysis of the routinization of charisma. A charismatic figure is a prophet, a visionary, who is able to mobilize a following through the force of his or her vision. Yet, in Weber’s view, an organization based on charismatic authority is not stable. The routinization of charisma leads to rational-legal authority as the basis of a more stable organization. Weber despaired for this loss of charisma, because he saw charisma as a creative force, but bureaucratization represents a transition from creativity to mundane routine.

By contrast, in Selznick’s analysis, the role of leadership is to institutionalize organization by assisting in the “infusion of value.” Leaders help to articulate a powerful mission for their organization and then help to create a social structure and community that can support this mission.8 This emphasis on the role of leadership in institutionalizing a mission does not insist on a sharp separation between personalism and impersonalism. In fact, as Jowitt (1993) has emphasized, Selznick’s theory can be described as “charismatic impersonalism.” In Pragmatist terms, the role of leaders is to develop a close alignment between meaning and action. Selznick’s focus on a leader’s role in articulating and developing an organizational mission embodies the Pragmatist idea of cultivating purpose and principle.

The Pragmatist sociologist Charles Horton Cooley was among the first to call attention to the importance of informal organization in modern institutions. He regarded “primary groups”—groups bound together by face-to-face communication and cooperation—as the heart of social institutions (Cooley 1962).9 Jane Addams and Mary Parker Follett, both leaders of the settlement movement, also stressed the informal, intersubjective nature of institutions (Seigfried 1999; Stivers 2002). Building on Chester Barnard, Mary Parker Follett, and the early human relations school in organization theory, Selznick departed from Weber in emphasizing the continuing importance of informal organization in large-scale organization.10

(p.68) For Weber, the impersonalism of the bureaucracy drives out informal organization. But for Selznick, formal and informal organization are not diametrically opposed. In his analysis of institutional leadership, Selznick emphasized that the role of leadership is to align formal and informal organization. His conception of informal organization was built around a conception of community that mirrors the Pragmatist’s emphasis on community as face-to-face relations.11 Rather than being suppressed, informal organization could be harnessed to the broader mission of the organization. Through the cultivation of organizational purpose and the meaningfulness of work, leaders can encourage the development of informal organization around the central purposes of the organization.

One of Selznick’s best-known arguments is that institutionalization is equivalent to transforming an organization from an “instrument” into a “community”—from a thing valued only as a means into an end-in-itself. The role of leadership is to cultivate the purpose of organization through the articulation of mission and to support this mission by encouraging the creation of a community committed to it. In fact, Selznick’s argument about institutionalization built directly on Dewey’s theory of valuation. Dewey argued that ends could only be defined in conjunction with available means.12 Technology, for Dewey, is never merely an “instrument”; it is also the embodiment of meaning (Hickman 1992). Selznick’s theory of institutionalization is built on this idea of the continuous iteration between ends and means and the view that organizations (as technologies) come to be treated as ends-in-themselves.

By contrast, Weber’s theory of bureaucracy understood rationalization in general, and bureaucratization in particular, as a process whereby ends and means were distinctly separated from one another. Bureaucracy therefore could serve as a neutral instrument (means), and this view was indeed powerful because it supported the notion of the neutral competence of bureaucrats and the separation of politics (value) and administration. The ideas of neutral expertise and a politics–administration dichotomy are casualties of the Dewey-Selznick logic of valuation. In Selznick’s view, institutionalization builds bias into organizations—bias that has consequences for the downstream articulation of ends.

Selznick called the bias built into organizations “the institutional embodiment of purpose” and it affords another glimpse of the parallel between Selznick and Dewey. As developed in the last chapter, Dewey understood much of human behavior as habit-based, and he understood “character” to be a bundle of interpenetrating habits. This “character” could be ethical, and much of Dewey’s moral theory focused on how individuals can cultivate good ethical characters. In Leadership in Administration, Selznick develops a model of organizational character, drawing a close association between character and competence. For (p.69) Dewey, habit is a predisposition to action, a learned skill similar to the skill of a craftsperson. For Selznick, character—as an “institutional embodiment of purpose”—aligns mission (purpose), competence (skill), and commitment (value). Character is defined by Selznick as a distinctive competence.

Antidualism II: Moving beyond Command and Obedience

If, in contrast to Weber’s model of bureaucracy, Selznick would encourage a productive marriage of formal and informal organization, Mary Parker Follett would offer an alternative to Weber’s model of authority and control. Follett was a contemporary of Dewey’s and shared many of his basic philosophical and public commitments (Ansell 2009). She was a student of Josiah Royce and William James at Harvard, and her work sought to integrate Royce’s Idealism and James’s Pragmatism. Her varied career as a scholar, social activist, and management consultant gave her an unusual ability to bridge the worlds of theory and practice in an insightful and creative way and led her to develop a fresh perspective on authority, conflict, and cooperation in organizations (Tonn 2003). She provides the closet thing we have to a Pragmatist account of authority and control.

Among Follett’s most famous essays is “The Giving of Orders,” in which she lays out a model of authority that requires integration between supervisor and subordinates. Follett argues that the extremes of what she calls “bossism” (linear command) and no orders at all (anarchism) are to be avoided (1941, 58). She asks us to understand the “experience” that employees have when they are issued a linear order, which undercuts both their independent judgment and their motivation. Instead of conceiving the relationship between supervisor and subordinate as linear and unidirectional, she described the relationship as interactive: “I should say that the giving of orders and the receiving of orders ought to be a matter of integration through circular behavior” (Follett 1941, 54).

To achieve that balance between top-down command and bottom-up initiative, she articulates what she calls the “law of the situation.” The key to the law of the situation is to “depersonalize the giving of orders” (Follett 1941, 58): “One person should not give orders to another person, but both should agree to take their orders from the situation” (ibid., 59). For Follett, the situation has “authority.” In arguing for depersonalizing the giving of orders, she clarifies that the goal is not actually to depersonalize organization but rather to repersonalize the relationship by stripping it of personalized control.13 Like Dewey, Follett emphasized the importance of “face-to-face” relations (p.70) and the immediacy of the specific situational context. Face-to-face relations are important because they facilitate the “joint” study of the situation.14

Follett’s revision of the concept of authority, as expressed by the law of the situation, is closely related to the stress she lays on the idea of responsibility. “How can you expect people merely to obey orders,” she writes, “and at the same time to take that degree of responsibility which they should take?” (Follett 1941, 63).15 Moreover, responsibility is difficult to fix, and hence assign, because it grows organically out of the process of interweaving the task situations of different people. Although she recognizes the need to assign authority and responsibility a priori and to hold people accountable, she observes that “in the ideal organization authority is always fresh, always being distilled anew”(ibid., 151). Her goal is to draw attention to the authority and responsibility of people lower in the organizational hierarchy.

What is the role of leadership in Follett’s model of organization? She vigorously rejected the idea that the leader’s role is to command and the follower’s role is to obey. Arguing against a command-oriented view of leadership, she writes that “group activity, organized group activity, should aim: to incorporate and express the desires, the experiences, the ideals of individual members of the group.”16 Follett emphasizes that leadership is a process of increasing the power and individuality of employees.

Follett does not object to the idea of authority, as such, but only to the idea of “ultimate” authority, from which lesser authority is derived (1941, 154). She proposes that instead of thinking about “ultimate” authority, we ought to think about “cumulative responsibility.” Some people do have more cumulative responsibility than others. But, she writes:

The best method of organization is not that which works out most meticulously or most logically the place for “finals” and “ultimates,” but that which provides possibilities for a cumulative responsibility, which provides for gathering together all the responsibility there actually is in the plant, which provides for making various individual and group responsibilities more effective by the working out of a system of cross-relations. (1941, 154–155).

Her sense of coordination is typically a form of collegial governance, often through the organizational vehicle of what today might be called “project teams.”17 She repeatedly emphasizes the importance of cross-functional coordination and stresses that early and continuous coordination are essential (Follett 1941, 157–158).18 Ultimately, integration can only be successful if it builds up from organic coordination among separate tasks.19 Control, she argues, arises out of the interactive coordination that produces unity: “The (p.71) activity of self-creating coherence is the controlling activity” (204). The implication, she tells us, is that the more “highly integrated” an organization is, the more control it will have (205).20 However, this does not imply that the group controls the individual. Rather, an integrated group encourages a form of self-control, which is what Follett means by responsibility. Parker summarizes Follett’s theory of control: “The group-oriented process of shared self-control therefore constituted the major aspect of the Follett behavioral model of control” (1984, 740).21

Antidualism III: Neither Centralization or Decentralization

Selznick’s marriage of the formal and informal and the personal and impersonal, and Follett’s “situational” model of authority and idea of cumulative responsibility, are mutually reinforcing ideas. Taken together, they can help organizations to successfully manage the inherent tension in large-scale endeavors between centralization and decentralization. Among the most valuable lessons of Follett’s conception of authority is that centralization or decentralization are not alternatives: “That centralization and decentralization are not opposed is the central lesson for business administration to learn” (1941, 80). Clearly, she favors a form of decentralization, because she writes that “I know no one who believes more strongly in decentralization than I do, but I believe that collective responsibility and decentralized responsibility must go hand in hand” (79). She provides multiple examples of the benefit of pushing initiative down into the operational ranks, and she argues that there should be no “sharp line” between planning and executing (88).

To fully see how Follett would overcome the pulls of centralization and decentralization, we have to further investigate her analysis of power and leadership. Complementing her “law of the situation,” Follett suggests a distinction between “power-over”—as exemplified by traditional command relationships—and “power-with,” which is a “co-active” or “joint” power (Follett 1941, 100). Follett regards “legitimate power” as power-with and she sees it as produced through the circular relations of integration. She distinguishes the idea of “balance of power” from the idea of “power-with” or joint power (e.g., power-with is a form of integration). A balance of power constrains the power of each party through countervailing power. By contrast, Follett argues in favor of increasing the power of each party by increasing their joint power (1941, 110). Furthermore, she argues that power cannot be delegated because it is a capacity (109). She writes: “To confer authority where capacity has not been developed is fatal to both government and business” (111).22

(p.72) A powerful implication of Selznick’s approach to organizations is that the successful creation of a committed community around a mission creates conditions for successful decentralization. When employees or members share a common commitment to the organization, they can be granted greater latitude in decision making, trusting that they will make decisions in the spirit of the general mission. Organizations with a strong institutional embodiment of purpose can grant frontline workers significant discretion, a very valuable asset in many organizations and a de facto situation in many public organizations (like police agencies). Yet “decentralized” would be a misleading description for an organization that adopts Selznick’s brand of institutionalization. Such organizations actually exhibit combined properties of both centralization and decentralization. In a classic study partially inspired by Selznick, Herbert Kaufman (1967) shows how organizations that develop a strong institutional embodiment of purpose can achieve strong central control in combination with strong decentralization.

Selznick drew another idea from Barnard, Follett, and the human relations school that is closely connected with this property of centralization-decentralization: relational authority. Rather than conceiving of authority as a command and control relationship, as Weber does in his model of bureaucracy, Selznick’s conceives of leadership as requiring consent from below. Barnard, of course, gave the classic statement of this view in The Functions of the Executive (Barnard 1968).23 Consent from below does not mean either “poll democracy” or “transactional” leadership (Burns 1982). For both Barnard and Selznick, leadership must put a firm and distinctive stamp on the organization. But leadership will be enhanced when organizational members develop their own personal commitment to the leader’s articulation of purpose. Nor is leadership a simple principal-agent relationship. Leaders enhance their authority by enhancing the commitment of members to their vision. Members enhance their own autonomy by enhancing the leader’s capacity to direct and integrate the organization around a common mission. The idea of relational authority is consistent with Dewey’s notion that increased organization does not necessarily lead to a loss of freedom.

Relational authority is a linchpin in the reconciliation of formal and informal rule. On the one hand, informal organization may imply only personalistic particularism—a patronage relationship created to motivate employees who have little incentive to perform otherwise. On the other hand, formal controls are often seen as ineffective—as “mock bureaucracy”—or as a way to achieve control where informal relationships are conflictual or poorly developed (Gouldner 1955a). Relational authority affords leaders the ability to use formal controls effectively, if they can effectively align formal controls with informal support from below. In his study of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Boin (2001) (p.73) shows how this kind of relational authority can mutually enhance compliance with formal rule on the one hand, and expand informal commitment on the other.24

Organizations as Political Communities

One of Selznick’s most famous books—TVA and the Grassroots—has strong affinities with a Weberian approach. This book is a case study of what came to be known as “goal displacement,” an idea implicit in Weber’s theory of the “routinization of charisma” and elaborated by his protégé, Roberto Michels, in his classic book Political Parties.25 Michels examined the bureaucratization of the German Social Democratic Party and German trade unions and developed an argument that has come to be known as the “iron law of oligarchy.” Building on Weber’s analysis of bureaucratization, Michels argued that bureaucracy leads to elite control over the masses (oligarchy). While efficient and therefore indispensable, bureaucracy allowed elites to become more concerned about their own livelihood and organizational survival than about the goals of the masses. When challenged from below, these elites perpetuate themselves through co-optation of dissenters into their ranks. Oligarchy displaced the original democratic goals of the socialist movement in Germany.

Michels’s idea of goal displacement provided the central framework for Selznick’s analysis of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As a novel experiment in grassroots planning, the TVA confronted a political crisis. The TVA threatened powerful agricultural interests within the Tennessee Valley. To guarantee the survival of the TVA, its leadership sought out an accommodation with these interests, incorporating them into the TVA through a process of both formal and informal cooptation. In the process, the original idealist vision of grassroots planning became a myth, emptied of its more radical promise, but still serving the purpose of providing a political justification. Alvin Gouldner (1955b) famously took Selznick to task for the “pessimism” of this vision of organization, which was in the very same vein as Weber’s pessimism about the iron cage of bureaucracy. Gouldner challenged Selznick to develop a more democratically constructive analysis, which Selznick did in his next book, Leadership in Administration.

The TVA may have been Selznick’s most Weberian book, but it is worth pointing out how even in this book he was guided by Dewey.26 In one sense, the TVA experiment itself could be said to embody a Pragmatist vision: a community-based concept of regional planning that would seek to enhance the capacity of the grassroots to democratically decide their own future. From this perspective, the TVA can be read as a cautionary note. The decentralized, (p.74) participatory vision that the TVA embodied was, to borrow words from Selznick’s later work on responsive law, a “high risk strategy.” Although the idea of goal displacement came from Michels (via Merton), Selznick’s analysis of the fate of this decentralized, participatory vision builds explicitly on Dewey’s model of valuation and the means–ends continuum.

Selznick argued that the problem of grassroots planning was that it began as an “unanalyzed abstraction.” For Pragmatism, ungrounded idealism is problematic and can lead to serious unintended consequences (this point is similar to the critique of “rational design” discussed in chapter 2). Pragmatism emphasizes a close alignment of ideas and action. Goal displacement occurred in the TVA case at least partly because of the ungrounded idealism of the original concept. With Dewey, Selznick emphasizes that ends only become defined through interaction with means.27

Selznick’s affinity for both Michels and Dewey can also be looked at from another angle. Michels’s analysis bears a strong Aristotelian stamp. Aristotle was the first great scholar of comparative politics and he described the political community as having different regimes—monarchy, democracy, and aristocracy. Aristotle’s view of the community as first and foremost “political”—as polities—is deeply embedded in the civic republican tradition that strongly influenced both Selznick and Dewey. For Selznick and Michels, and for Pragmatism more generally, the organization can be understood as a polity.

Selznick’s emphasis on the organization as a polity can be seen in all his works. However, in later work on the law, he began to elaborate an argument that institutionalization as value infusion—the development of community—develops in conjunction with the emergence of a polity. Community and polity are, in fact, two sides of the same dynamic. With value infusion, a group of people will develop a sense of being a community, and one expression of this sense of community is the creation of a political order that can regulate the internal life of the community. In his work on law, Selznick was particularly interested in how organizations, as polities, can develop an emergent legal system. As pointed out in chapter 2, this process can be thought of as a process of constitutionalization, which creates rights and duties and a sense of citizenship. The implications of this view are important. Whether they are police officers, teachers, or forest rangers, Selznick would expect the “citizens” of a healthy developing institution to claim ownership over it—that is, to develop a vested interest in it.28 This is, in part, what it means for an institution to become a “going concern.”

While “vested interests” often have a negative connotation, Selznick understood their potential value. An engaged organizational citizenry will be concerned about the integrity of the institution and its guiding principles and values. It will have developed a strong sense of what Follett called “cumulative (p.75) responsibility.” When an organizational citizenry has the motivation (vested interests), the opportunity (a community operating in a framework of relational authority), and a sense of ownership over organizational principles and values (cumulative responsibility), then it is possible for them to become a reflective and deliberative community.

From Political Community to Problem-Solving Community

Although Selznick is widely acknowledged as a theorist of institutions and institutionalization, the power of his approach for understanding “emergent” phenomena is not widely appreciated. In Law, Society, and Industrial Justice, Selznick argues that a sociological approach to law focuses specifically on the “emergent, system-forming nature of institutions” (1969, 44). Selznick, however, did not fully explicate this idea until he wrote Responsive Law with Philippe Nonet. In this work, Nonet and Selznick elaborate three different forms of law: repressive, autonomous, and responsive. In repressive law, there is no separation between politics and law. Law is used as a political weapon to achieve the purposes of rulers, often in a coercive way. In a second phase, autonomous law develops, which is characterized by a strong demarcation between politics and law. The implicit bargain that allows law and courts autonomy from politics is that they content themselves with procedural interpretation and avoid interference with substantive content (e.g., politics). In the third phase, the law ventures past this boundary beyond politics and law. It becomes concerned not only with procedural integrity but also with broader questions of societal justice. Judges and courts become “responsive” to larger societal issues. Nonet and Selznick’s concept of responsive law is exemplified by the “problem-solving courts” that have developed in the United States in the last few decades.

The distinction between autonomous and responsive law is ideal-typical and rarely represented in pure form. Nevertheless, Nonet and Selznick suggest that there is a developmental relationship between them and that responsive law can only effectively develop upon a strong base of autonomous law. As law becomes responsive, however, it becomes less concerned with autonomy and independence per se and more concerned about societal problem-solving. They note the parallel between this argument and Deweyian Pragmatism: “The more wide ranging legal inquiry becomes, the more it encourages a more sophisticated pragmatism, in the spirit of John Dewey, which regards ends as problematic and subject to reconstruction in light of their costs” (2001, 84–85).

The move toward responsive law entails “high risks,” but these risks, they argue, must be weighed against the possible drawbacks of autonomous law.29 (p.76) “Legality understood as close accountability to rules is the promise of autonomous law,” Nonet and Selznick write, “legalism is its affliction” (2001, 64). “Legalism,” they further observe, is an “imposition to rely on legal authority to the detriment of practical problem-solving.” Nonet and Selznick note the parallel between autonomous law and bureaucracy and responsive law and “post-bureaucracy”: “Bureaucracy is not a dynamic institution committed to solving problems and attaining objectives. Rather it is a relatively passive and conservative system preoccupied with the detailed implementation of received policies” (2001, 65).

From a Weberian perspective, many of the current changes in political life—networks, decentralization, public-sector entrepreneurialism—are by definition a form of deinstituitonalization.30 However, for Selznick, they may be developmental. In Selznick’s three forms of law—repressive, autonomous, and responsive—a shift away from autonomous law could be a regression toward the arbitrary form of law that he calls repressive. But Selznick’s analysis of law also suggests that what to some eyes is “deinstitutionalization” can be a movement toward responsive law. The comparison between Weber and Selznick is useful precisely because it highlights these possibilities.

Responsive institutions are threatening because they blur boundaries: a judge goes beyond the letter of the law to engage in “therapeutic” action with a repeat offender; a public agency forms a partnership with private stakeholders to redevelop a declining shopping district; beat officers develop close relationships with the communities they patrol. Each relationship demands the flexibility to tailor solutions to situationally specific problems. But both the relationship and the flexibility it entails can jeopardize the prized autonomy, independence, and public ethics of public organizations. The key to understanding how institutions can maintain their integrity while engaging in flexible problem-solving is to understand the “cultivation of public purpose” that must attend a shift toward greater openness and flexibility. As Nonet and Selznick write: “Only when an institution is truly purposive can there be a combination of integrity and openness, rule and discretion” (2001, 77).31

As organizations develop their own internal rules and sense of citizenship, they will also develop a tendency toward self-regulating autonomy. This striving toward autonomy may reflect the fact that organizations wish to act according to their own institutionalized values, but it also suggests that they wish to act in a responsive fashion according to their own understanding of public needs and problems. This self-regulating autonomy is a serious problem if public officials are self-regarding rather than public-regarding. Selznick, however, suggests that the public character of organizations may be reinforced by wider institutionalization in the political community: “Characteristically,” he writes, “an institution … is valued for the special place it has in a larger (p.77) social system” (1969, 44).32 It is when organizations institutionalize a distinctively “public” character—reinforced by both organizational members and external publics—that they can be granted greater autonomy to act in a more “responsive” manner.

It is the institutionalization of character and competence with reference to the larger field of meaning of liberal-democratic society that helps us to understand how public organizations can combine autonomy, openness, integrity, and flexibility. Character and competence must be cultivated not with narrow reference to the parochial needs and interests of an organizational community but in a fashion that is responsive to the broader needs and principles of a larger liberal and democratic community. Good leaders can help public organizations to evolve in this direction.

Competence and Character

Selznick’s theory of organizations seeks to overcome many of the dualisms inherent in Weber’s theory of bureaucracy and rationality. For Selznick, informal organization must be harnessed to support formal organization; personal identification with the purposes of the organization must be brought together within an impersonal institutional framework that supports and governs these purposes. By overcoming these dualisms, Selznick (along with Follett) describes the conditions necessary for successful decentralization, a relational form of authority, and emergent self-regulation. These organizational features, in turn, support what Selznick calls a “responsive” organization—one that can flexibly respond to public problems. From a democratic perspective, this flexibility is potentially problematic. But rather than keeping this responsiveness in check by a system of external rules or incentives, Selznick’s vision is to channel it toward public-regarding purposes (creating “public value” in Mark Moore’s terms) by cultivating the organization’s competency and character. In his essay, “Institutionalism Old and New,” Selznick (1992) says that his work has been about understanding the “competence” and “character” of institutions. Competence allows organizations to be effective problem-solvers; character harnesses this competence to larger public purposes.33

Selznick’s emphasis on organizational competencies is consistent with the larger tradition of Pragmatist institutionalism. Pragmatism emphasizes the central value of skills, with basic skills serving as scaffolding for more complex and sophisticated skills. These ideas can be seen in Veblen’s description of the “workmanlike” qualities of organization, in Hughes’s focus on occupations and professions, and in Dewey’s understanding of habit. If we take these points together, Pragmatist institutionalism suggests that we pay special attention to (p.78) institutions as repositories of specific competences and that these competences need to be cultivated. The idea of organizations as going concerns—as partially self-governing institutions or communities that persist through time—suggests that organizations are communities bound together by the cultivation of these competences.34

The focus on competence and character in Selznick’s work embodies a powerful approach to achieving successful organizational reform. His theory points to the enhancement of competence and character as a distinctive path toward organizational improvement. For his model to work, competence and character have to be mutually supporting. As an organizational ethos, the character of the organization has to continuously mold professional and personal values toward a distinctive public mission. Competence is the skill and capacity to act on these values, but it also contains within it the pride of personal achievement and public worth.35 There is a tight loop of mutual causality implied here. Character sets the terms under which competence can be productively used; competence gives meaning and efficacy to character. In contrast, to Weber’s model of “neutral competence,” Selznick’s model calls for every organization to have a “distinctive competence.”36 Organizational members will be imbued with this distinctive competence and will seek to protect and advance the values it represents.37

Selznick’s model departs significantly from the approach prescribed in recent years by New Public Management (NPM). Inspired by modern economics and principal-agent models, NPM aims to align and optimize performance through the use of incentive systems. By contrast, Selznick would have us enhance the problem-solving capacity of organizations through investment in greater competence. Both Selznick and NPM value greater organizational autonomy and decentralization, but they differ sharply on what permits that autonomy and decentralization. While NPM would suggest that it is critical “to get the incentives right,” Selznick would counter with the importance of a strong organizational ethos rooted in commitment and competence. And, in contrast to NPM, Selznick does not try to deregulate on the “input” (rule-oriented) side of public management. Although his model departs from the formal, impersonal, rule-oriented approach of Weberian bureaucracy, Selznick’s model does not seek to replace rules with incentives (although a Pragmatist approach does suggest that successful rules will have a different character, a point taken up in chapter 6). To be clear here, a Pragmatist would no more reject “getting the incentives right” than an NPM advocate would reject “investing in competence.” The difference is a matter of emphasis but one that can lead to very different strategies for organizational reform.

An initial response to a competence-based approach may be “yes, but….” Yes, institutions may be bundles of competences, but does this actually have any (p.79) implications beyond recognizing the point?38 Actually, a competence-based perspective requires a rather fundamental shift in perspective. In our traditional view of public agencies, the focus is on programs and program outputs, not competences. Competences are required to produce programs and program outputs, but they are merely instrumental to producing these results. A competence-based approach requires that we devote more attention and resources to building competences than a narrowly instrumental view of competences might appear to justify. Obviously, a competency-based perspective requires a balance. Monasteries are concerned about the cultivation of a certain kind of competency and character, but they probably make poor models (at least in their pure form) for public agencies.39 The production and reproduction of competences is expensive, and the public cannot afford to support monasteries dedicated to the cultivation of their own competence.40 The public-serving character of agencies places limits on investment in organizational competences.

The cultivation of competences, however, may actually be cost-effective. An organization that is highly efficient in the short term may also be ineffective, and hence ultimately inefficient, in the long run. To illustrate (but not prove) this point, we can compare two different versions of school reform—one of them focused on the cultivation of competences and the other focused on holding schools accountable for results.41

The results-oriented model, inspired by work in New Public Management, is the model of “high stakes testing” that lies at the core of the No Child Left Behind program in U.S. education. Schools are held accountable for “results,” which are defined as standards-referenced test results. It is clear that schools do respond to this model of performance measurement and that there have been improvements in test scores. But the depth of student learning or school improvement is less clear. One familiar problem is “teaching to the test” in which teachers and school administrators engage in a range of strategies to maximize test results. Whether test results produce educated students who can reason critically and think creatively is another question altogether. Another problem is trying to hold weak schools accountable for results when they lack the basic competence to perform at high levels. The “results” model assumes that school failure is a lack of effort rather than a lack of competence. It tries to provide the “right incentives” to motivate teachers and schools.

By contrast, another approach to school reform, made famous by New York City’s District #2, focuses on refining the competences of teachers. The core philosophy is that children will learn if adults have the competence to teach effectively. This strategy emphasizes putting scarce resources into professional development and the development of a sophisticated system of mentorship and teaching support, which provides teachers with constant feedback aimed at improving their teaching practice. Of course, even competent teachers can (p.80) “shirk,” as the principal-agent approach would emphasize. So the Pragmatist model would insist that competence must be infused with a strong sense of public purpose. Highly competent teachers must be committed to the belief that teaching has public value. It is this “character” of commitment to this public purpose that solves the shirking problem, not “high-stakes” testing.42 From this perspective, teaching will be effective if highly committed teachers are provided with sophisticated teaching skills.

Scholarship on firms has explored the importance of firm-based competences for comparative market advantage (e.g., Prahalad and Hamel 1990; Teece, Pisano, and Shuen 1997; Zollo and Winter 2003).43 This literature notes that while firms may produce a range of products, innovative firms focus on core competences rather than products per se.44 Fowler et al. offer the following example: “Consider Canon’s success in developing a stream of different products (including cameras, printers, fax machines, and cell analyzers) based on its core competencies in precision mechanics, fine optics, and microelectronics” (2000, 368). Lei, Hitt, and Bettis define core capacities as “a central set of problem-defining and problem-solving insights that enable the firm to create potentially idiosyncratic strategic growth alternatives and to enact, at least partially, its environment” (1996, 550). The literature on “core competencies” and “dynamic capabilities” builds on a “resource view” of firms, which stresses the importance of skills in high-performing organizations.45

The idea of focusing on competences rather than on products or programs leads to the need to think about organization in terms of costs. Competences can be expensive to develop and maintain. How do you justify building up organizational competences in a world of fiscal constraint? Innovative firms produce profitable cutting-edge products. But is there an equivalent political market for highly competent, innovative public agencies? The public demand for highly competent public agencies is surely more uneven than it is for firms. Is the public actually willing to pay for highly competent teachers? Unfortunately, in the public world, competence is often valued post hoc only after the costs of organizational failure become known. Kettl (1993) provides a good example of these costs in his study of the U.S. toxic waste cleanup program called “Superfund.” The program relied primarily on contracting out cleanup work to remain administratively lean. But leanness had a cost, because the EPA failed to develop the internal competences to negotiate and oversee these contracts. The result was highly wasteful and ineffective cleanup projects.

Despite the apparently high up-front investment of a competence-based approach, one possible rationale for a competence-based approach is that it is ultimately more cost-effective than program-based budgeting. Public organizations are rooted in a strong policy-program linkage that structures organizational behavior and usually resists flexible “retooling” as new challenges (p.81) and needs arise. Programs are relatively fixed budget lines with high overhead. Anyone who has ever worked in a public agency knows the high cost of maintaining underemployed employees allocated to one program, while other programs struggle to meet their responsibilities because of lack of personnel.46 A budgeting process that prioritizes competence over programs, however, could more easily reallocate personnel where they are needed. Case studies like the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission suggest that projects with the right mix of highly skilled personnel and effective team management can achieve very impressive results with many fewer people. A competence-based approach may sound expensive, but savings come from flexible reallocation of skills and assets.

A second possible rationale for budgeting around competences is that it can facilitate cross-functional coordination within organizations. The ability to organize competences across program lines is not generally supported by program management or by budgeting systems. It is common for failures to occur because of lack of dedicated funding for projects that cross boundaries. Organizations structured around programs establish incentive systems that make cross-program coordination nearly impossible.47 One possible benefit of competence-based government is that organizations would see coordination with other organizations as a possibility of expanding and refining skills.

A possible third rationale for budgeting around competences is that it can provide a more transparent view of what it costs to maintain a high-performing agency. If you want an agency like the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to perform at high levels, it would be quite useful to place the real costs of keeping its employees at high skill and readiness levels front and center. The cost of maintaining personnel is typically included in program budgets, but the point is that the cost of maintaining and refining organizational competences is not obvious in most budgeting processes. Therefore it is possible that “costing” competences rather than programs might actually yield a more transparent view of organizational budgeting.


Large-scale organizations have become central to modern life. Whether we are protecting populations from pandemics or natural disasters or teaching children to read or exploring space, organizations are vital mechanisms for coordinating social action on a large scale. But in recent years, we have witnessed a major disenchantment with large-scale organizations. This disenchantment arises, in part, from our dismay with the apparent inflexibility, inefficiency, and ineffectiveness of bureaucracy, which has fueled demands for (p.82) alternative forms of organization that are more nimble, entrepreneurial, and results-oriented. This chapter engages this issue from a Pragmatist perspective, arguing that large-scale organization does not necessarily lead to Weber’s “iron cage.” Building on the work of Mary Parker Follett and Philip Selznick, this chapter develops a Pragmatist alternative to Weberian bureaucracy.

This Pragmatist alternative would try to overcome any sharp separation between formal/ informal or personal/ impersonal organization, with the aim of developing strong informal and personal commitment to general organizational principles and values. In place of hierarchical command, Pragmatism would substitute a more relational model of authority. Leaders would build consent for guiding principles and values and infuse them into the institutional fabric of the organization. If successful, these steps can facilitate greater decentralization within organizations without loss of central direction. Decentralization, in turn, allows organizations to engage more responsively in problem solving. Granting public organizations discretion and autonomy to engage in problem solving, however, is inherently risky, since this discretion and autonomy may be used in undesirable ways. Such discretion and autonomy can only be granted when organizations have institutionalized a powerful organizational ethos that binds organizational members to public purposes. To do this, organizations must develop distinctive competences that link the professionalism of employees to strong public missions and values.

Selznick’s model supports the broader goal of evolutionary learning. The competences and character of organizations are themselves the result of evolutionary processes in which certain values and skills become institutionalized. As the organization becomes a “going concern,” developing through time, competence and character reflect the experiences and lessons of organizational life. As the organization becomes a more autonomous and self-regulating community, it is able to act reflexively toward its own distinctive competence. Relational authority permits and encourages the community to act in a deliberative fashion to improve and refine its own competences and character. Distinctive competence, self-regulation, and relational authority allow public organizations to act in a more responsive, problem-driven fashion, which accelerates learning and refinement of competences.

This Pragmatist model of organization offers a powerful alternative to contemporary attempts to reform bureaucratic organizations to make them more flexible, entrepreneurial, and results-oriented. A Pragmatist approach to reform would place greater emphasis on building competences rather than on designing incentive systems or program structures. Although a competency-oriented approach to reform might require up-front investment, it can also provide the basis for a more flexible and adaptive use of organizational (p.83) resources. A competence-oriented approach can also facilitate a more coordinated approach to problem solving by breaking down the institutional barriers to interunit and interorganizational cooperation associated with program structures. The next two chapters build on this organizational analysis by elaborating a Pragmatist approach to problem solving.


(1) . Sometimes we talk about organizations as associations, while at other times we use the term to refer to the set of institutional features by which associations operate. Both aspects are essential. Trade unions, political parties, private corporations, public agencies, and sports teams are all organizations because they are associations that have (p.209) developed specific institutions to allow them to act collectively. Electoral systems, driving rules, and operettas, by contrast, all facilitate collective action, but they are not themselves associations. A crowd, a dinner party, or a line to buy theater tickets may be associations, but they lack well-developed institutions that allow them to act in a concerted fashion. Finally, tribes, cities, and nations are associations with institutions that may allow them to act in a collective and goal-oriented way, but they are encompassing and general-purpose rather than special-purpose associations.

(2) . Whipple argues that “Dewey failed to place his theoretical democratic ideal directly within the context of the growth of large-scale organizations, the lack of a sustained engagement with which is particularly conspicuous in Dewey’s classic work in political theory, The Public and Its Problems” (2005, 164). For an argument that Dewey did have an understanding of large-scale organization, see Stever (1993, 2000a).

(3) . The “New” Sociological Institutionalism took Selznick as the archetype of the “Old” Institutionalism (Powell and DiMaggio 1991). They associated his work with Parson’s structural-functionalism and their distinction between Selznick’s value-oriented institutionalism and their own cognitive and phenomenological institutionalism is a founding assumption of New Sociological Institutionalism. Yet if we understand Selznick as a Pragmatist, influenced by Dewey’s social psychology, and not as a Parsonian structural-functionalist, then the dividing line between old and new institutionalism is more complicated. See Selznick (1996) for his own gentle response to this demarcation between an “old” and a “new” institutionalism.

(4) . Kant also separated reason and emotion. As MacKinnon writes: “Instead of feelings, ‘the pure moral motive’ is the foundation of character—the consistent and practical habit of mind set by reason itself” (2001, 342).

(5) . Kallinkos (2004) argues that the distinctive “modernist” characteristic of bureaucracy is not hierarchy or rule-bound behaviors but rather the “non-inclusive” character of the relationship between roles and persons. Bureaucracy does this by separating role from personality, incorporating persons in a noninclusive way—e.g., noninclusive of their entire personality. Consequently, role, not person, is the fundamental building block of the bureaucratic order. Drawing on this distinction, Maravelias (2003) argues that the key feature of post-bureaucracy is that it moves the responsibility for demarcating the boundary between professional and nonprofessional aspects of life from the organization to the individual. Höpfl (2006) has argued that Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is more like a list of attributes and less like a systematic conception. He argues that in taking Weber as the definitive statement of “bureaucracy,” those in the “post-bureaucracy” lineage are reconstructing a more systematic Weber than actually existed.

(6) . Weber’s conceptualization of history saw modernization as a transformation from personalistic to impersonal authority via the transition from traditional or charismatic authority to rational-legal authority. It is easy to understand bureaucratization—the separation of person from office—as a variable in Weber’s scheme. After all, this was his key argument about history. Yet it is less easy to see authority and legitimacy as variable. Organizational change, in Weber’s scheme, shifts from one type of authority, and hence legitimacy, to another type.

(7) . Follett’s model of organization also suggests that “obedience” and “liberty” can be reconciled (Follett 1941, 64–65).

(8) . In Weberian terms, this is sometimes referred to as the “institutionalization of charisma” in order to differentiate it from the “routinization of charisma.” Weber recognized the possibility of this institutional path, though his theory of bureaucratization did not.

(9) . Schubert observes that “Cooley’s conception of continuity between personal identity, primary group (or community) and social organization (or society) is altogether unprecedented. Ferdinand Tonnies, whose term Gemeinshaft (community or primary group) provided a focus of orientation for Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, differentiated (p.210) in a dualistic way between Gemeinshaft (group) and Gesellschaft (society). He defines Geminshaften as thick, organic unities, characterized by hierarchies, habits, moral orientations and emotions. Gesellschaft is, in every sense, just the opposite of Gemeinshaft: Gesellschaften are controlled by conventions, laws and public opinion. It is not possible to subsume Cooley’s ideas within this European scheme” (2006, 54).

(10) . Chester Barnard argued that rule was based on informal organization and that executive leaders confer identity on employees (Stever 2000a, 112). In developing a model of knowledge and learning, Barnard drew on Dewey’s model of experience (Novicevic, Hench, and Wren 2002).

(11) . Dewey’s focus on face-to-face relations in Freedom and Culture distinguishes between association and community (1989, 122). A community adds to association the function of communication, in which emotions are shared as well as joint undertakings engaged in. Note the parallel with Selznick’s distinction between organizations as instruments or institutions.

(12) . In his Theory of Valuation, Dewey writes that: “Value-propositions … exist whenever things are appraised as to their suitability and serviceability as means” (1939, 51). “Ends,” he writes, “are determinable only on the ground of the means that are involved in bringing them about” (ibid., 53).

(13) . She argues that the goal is “fact-control” rather than “man-control” (1941, 295).

(14) . Follett also suggests that people can develop the “habit” (the attitude) for joint study of the situation and for obeying the law of the situation. She is clear, however, that training is not to be used to produce the attitude to accept orders; rather, training is used to produce the habit of joint study of the situation (Follett 1941, 61). The key to authority and consent is, therefore, to stress the “jointness” of the activity of managers and employees rather than the vertical status ordering of one over the other. Although Follett’s view of the law of situation emphasizes the importance of employees having discretion, she emphasizes that she is not advocating the independence of workers in decision making. She is not rejecting the idea that some form of structural hierarchy is necessary for complex coordination. Rather, she suggests a transformation of the way those vertical positions fundamentally relate to one another.

(15) . Follett argues that authority and responsibility are derived from tasks (function) and not from position in the hierarchy (1941, 147). Authority should follow knowledge and experience. She argues against a principal-agent model of authority in which “the President delegates authority and responsibility” (ibid., 148). Instead, she insists that “legitimate authority flows from co-ordination, not co-ordination from authority” (ibid., 150).

(16) . She stresses the role of leaders in helping to achieve integration in the organization, or as she puts it, the role of the leaders is to “organize experience” (Follett 1941, 258). The leader does this through articulating the common purpose of the enterprise, thus helping the various moving parts of the organization to know how they fit together. This argument anticipates Selznick’s more elaborate argument about the role of leaders in shaping organizational missions (Selznick 1957). “The great leader,” she writes, “is he who so relates all the complex outer forces and all the complex inner forces that they work together effectively” (Follett 1941, 265).

(17) . For example, she writes, “One of the tests of conference or committee should be: are we developing genuine power or is someone trying unduly to influence the others?” (1941, 103).

(18) . “Four fundamental principles of organization are: coordination by direct contact of the responsible people concerned; coordination in the early stages; coordination as the reciprocal relating of all the factors in a situation; coordination as a continuing process” (Follett 1941, 297).

(19) . Essentially, she is expressing here the idea later called “simultaneous engineering” or what Sabel (2006) calls “concurrency.”

(20) . “The aim of organization engineering,” she writes, “is control through effective unity” (Follett 1941, 184).

(p.211) (21) . Parker identifies both “behavioral” and “holistic” models of control in Follett’s work but stresses the importance of “self-control” in both models. “[T]he synthesis of individualism and collective control,” Follett writes, “is collective self-control” (1941, 308). Yet it is not simply self-control at work in integrative groups. She also writes that “central control is coming more and more to mean correlation of many controls rather than a superimposed control” (ibid., 295). Follett writes that the “correlation of many controls” means the “gathering up of many authorities found at different points in the organization” (ibid., 296). She talks about planning as a “horizontal” rather than a “vertical” process (ibid., 301). Nor are planning and operations separate processes: “Thus planning remains an integral part of the management of the self-governing units” (ibid., 205). In making this argument, she draws on an organic view of the organization as an integrated whole (ibid., 185).

(22) . Follett’s concern with the capacity of employees to assume responsibility makes her a very relevant figure to contemporary empowerment research. As Follett wrote: “The manager cannot share his power with division superintendent or foreman or workmen, but he can give them opportunities for developing their power” (1941, 113). Boje and Rosile (2001) argue that Follett transcends the debate between empowerment and disempowerment perspectives. In distinguishing delegation from power, Follett argues that power is a capacity and therefore cannot be delegated. With respect to employees, they are not “delegated” power but rather have to have the opportunity to develop their own capacity. Eylon argues that “the paradox of empowerment is that the very existence of circumstances that place one group in a position to “provide” another group with power implies that power is a finite commodity controlled by a sub-set within the organization” (1998, 21). Eylon suggests that Follett’s concept of building up “co-active” power (power-with) helps to address the limitations of conceiving of empowerment as “sharing” power. The important thing is not how to divide power, but how to organize joint power.

(23) . For empirical support for this relational model of authority, see Tyler (1997).

(24) . Selznick’s relational model of authority explores the middle reaches of organizational life, between the authority inscribed in formal organizational charts and the day-to-day negotiations of organizational life. In this world, authority is not preordained and legitimacy must be earned. Yet legitimacy is not earned simply by producing immediate goods desired by followers. From a Pragmatist perspective, the relational model of authority should be a legitimacy-enhancing model. Leaders achieve authority when they cultivate general purposes and principles of rule. There are several important consequences of this perspective. First, authority is not narrowly attributed to formal office; it is also partly a property of specific leaders who “earn” it. Second, authority and legitimacy are achieved through a larger process of interaction and then diffused throughout the broader organizational culture. Culture “authorizes” leaders to act. But authority is also linked to the emergent purpose of organization and that is what the cultivation of mission is all about. Authority and legitimacy depend on making organizational purposes appeal to higher principles.

(25) . The term “goal displacement” was coined by Robert Merton.

(26) . In The Moral Commonwealth (1994), Selznick puts Michels’s iron law of oligarchy in context, describing the conditions that will lead to oligarchy.

(27) . The TVA book reflects Selznick’s broader analysis of institutionalization as an infusion of value. The concept of grassroots planning was gradually emptied of much of its original meaning, but it still became the basis of an infusion of value in the TVA. Grassroots planning became part of the founding myth around which the TVA community crystallized. Selznick’s marriage of Weber, Michels, and Dewey is useful because it points to how Pragmatism might explain negative as well as positive outcomes.

(28) . This notion that institutionalization is a process of vesting of interests was an important aspect of Pragmatist-inspired institutional analysis: John Commons made this a key (p.212) aspect of his institutional economics, emphasizing that an organization is institutionalized when it becomes a “going concern.” Selznick also talks about institutions as “going concerns” (1969, 44–45).

(29) . The distinction between Weber and Selznick in terms of authority and legitimacy can be seen in this distinction between autonomous and responsive law. As Nonet and Selznick write: “Legitimation not competence is the central concern of autonomous law” (2001, 104). Any move away from a focus on legitimation is risky, they observe, not only because it can erode the gains of autonomous law by becoming politicized, but also because responsive law can degenerate into incrementalism (2001, 84–85n).

(30) . For an important discussion of networks that invokes Selznick’s analysis of cooptation, see O’Toole and Meier (2004).

(31) . In the Weberian tradition, institutionalization is often associated with the consolidation of corporate groups and their development of autonomy from the biographical individuals that create them and from their external environments. Although useful and insightful for understanding institutionalization, the Weberian approach sets a standard that makes all departures from consolidation (e.g., from bureaucracy to networks) or autonomy (e.g., from closed to open systems) appear as steps toward deinstitutionalization. Again, it is formality and impersonalism that do the work of preserving the consolidated and autonomous character of the organization in the Weberian tradition. By contrast, Selznick’s interpretation of institutionalization offers a different standard of evaluation. Institutionalization depends on the degree to which an organizational community has been created around a distinctive public mission and the degree to which a strong “organizational character” has been molded around this public mission. Just as Selznick’s model suggests how to combine centralization and decentralization, his approach also provides a framework for thinking about how institutions can be open while preserving integrity. Civil servants socialized into the mission and principles of a public agency can both be granted greater discretion and responsibility (decentralization) and be trusted to engage flexibly with external stakeholders. As Nonet and Selznick write: “All institutions experience a conflict between integrity and openness. Integrity is protected when an institution is strongly committed to distinctive mission or can be held accountable to that mission by external controls” (2001, 76). In Nonet and Selznick’s notion of responsive law, judges, agencies, or beat officers can be granted the discretion to become flexible “problem-solvers” to the extent that their behavior upholds the integrity of public purposes.

(32) . We see again that freedom and constraint develop together. Emery and Trist (1972) argued that adaptation to turbulent fields required the development of “ideal seeking systems”—a focus on the elaboration of values that orient, in a general way, complex adaptations. Unfortunately, they do not elaborate this idea.

(33) . In The Moral Commonwealth, Selznick writes: “The hallmarks of character are special competence and disability. ‘Character’ refers to the commitments that help to determine the kinds of tasks an organization takes on, the opportunities it creates or closes off, the priorities it sets, and the abuses to which it is prone” (1992, 321).

(34) . One can immediately sense some affinities between a Pragmatist institutionalism and “learning organizations” (Senge 2006) or “communities of practice” (Lave and Wenger 1991). Wilson (1989) hints at “competency-based” government when he suggests that programs should not be assigned to agencies whose missions conflict with program implementation.

(35) . The Pragmatist model is action-oriented and tries to simultaneously refine the values by which we act in the world; but action is also a capacity. This is Dewey’s point about moral development.

(36) . As Stinchcombe observes, “Selznick was primarily developing a theory of the ‘distinctive competence’ of an organization, its ability to realize values in a way that no other organization could” (1997, 12).

(p.213) (37) . Later chapters will confront the problem of how to square this idea of a distinctive competence with the idea of democratic control of public agencies.

(38) . In the human resources field, there already exists the idea of competency management. This approach typically focuses on identifying task competencies in order to use this knowledge to select or train competent employees (see Young and Dulewicz on the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy; 2005).

(39) . Unlike monasteries, public agencies are open organizations intended to serve a mission that provides valuable goods and services to the public.

(40) . Again, Dewey’s discussion of the interaction of ends and means is relevant. A competency is both an end-in-itself and a means-to-an-end.

(41) . NASA’s recent experience with “better, faster, cheaper” provides another telling example of this point.

(42) . The description suggests another distinction that needs to be made. It is common in the last decade to focus on “benchmarking” as an important strategy for achieving organizational performance. Benchmarking and competence-building are overlapping, but conceptually distinct activities. Benchmarking refers to a strategy of searching for and implementing best practices; competence-building refers to a strategy of continuous skill development.

(43) . Note that the literature on “dynamic capabilities” traces its roots back to Selznick’s work (see Zollo and Winter 2003).

(44) . The idea of core competency comes from Prahalad and Hamel (1990).

(45) . Bryson, Ackerman, and Eden (2007) develop a resource-based view of public organizations that identifies and analyzes an organization’s core competencies.

(46) . For one example, see Hagedorn’s (1996) study of the Milwaukee child welfare agency.

(47) . Durant’s (1992) study of the Bureau of Land Management provides a good example.